London

Sophy Rickett

Emily Tsingou Gallery

“Can one narrate time,” asked Thomas Mann, “time as such, in and of itself?” Some photographers likewise (or conversely) seem to ask whether one can photograph a moment, decisive or otherwise, as such, in and of itself. Not the moment in which something or other happens (a speech, a kiss, a gunshot, a birth), but simply that in which a certain present reveals itself photographically. Can there be a photograph in which nothing happens but photography, some film’s exposure to some light that has been reflected off some object and concentrated through a lens?

Sophy Rickett’s photographs may not exactly succeed in presenting such moments, but they certainly seem concerned to compress any structurally extraneous narrative content to a bare minimum. Two of those exhibited here, London Studio I and London Studio II, both 2002, make this desire for compression particularly evident: Nearly all-black images, they show nothing other than a space that has been established for the production of photographs. The contents of the studio have been reduced to simply the curtains used to block out extraneous light—and also to the minute amount of brightness that has nonetheless been allowed to seep into it from a corner where the curtains do not quite meet and a bit more at the top (London Studio I) or bottom (II) where they meet but occasionally don’t quite reach the ceiling or floor. At first these pictures may seem based on an absolute dualism of searing white and imponderable black. But even the expanses of absolute darkness are inhabited by barely perceptible streaks that turn out to be the folds of the curtain, and within the austerity of the image these folds maintain the possibility of a kind of voluptuousness (one might think of James Welling’s photographs of folded fabric) that sustains the instantaneity of the moment and submits it to desire, that is, to narrative.

So to the extent the images succeed in capturing the photographic moment they do so precisely by placing it within an incipient narrative—and by theatricalizing it, turning it into the scene of a conflict or drama that might even be allegorical (as the division between darkness and light always is). The device of the curtain, in particular, is inherently theatrical, and it is this device that the studio pictures share, implicitly, with the other black-and-white image here, the triptych Cypress Screen, Dundee, 2001, where the frieze of trees across a horizon becomes a kind of curtain that likewise allows just so much light to emerge from behind. In the color photographs Via di Bravetta I and Via di Bravetta II, both 2002, the sensualism hidden in the almost imperceptible folds of the photo-studio curtain emerges into full view as landscape becomes a scene rather than a backdrop. The evident artifice of the lighting as it plays across foliage at night invites enjoyment of texture for its own sake in the variously brushy or feathery qualities of the leaves, but also implies a search for something hidden within, which is another way the moment opens onto narrative.

Barry Schwabsky